December 22 – Anniversary of the Discovery of an Asteroid

Posted on December 22, 2013

On this date in 1891, an asteroid was discovered.

Granted, a lot of asteroids had already been discovered. Astronomers—professionals and amateurs—had been staring into telescopes and spotting asteroids for almost a century by 1891. However, this discovery was like no other, because Max Wolf spotted this particular asteroid using photography!
Astrophotography, to be exact.

Wolf was an expert at spotting astronomical bodies, often using photographs taken of telescopic images. He discovered several comets, supernovae, dark nebulae, and dim-yet-nearby stars. He also discovered 248 asteroids!

But today commemorates his first asteroid find. Wolf had noticed that a time-exposure photo would reveal asteroids as short streaks, because they had planetary motion with respect to the stars. Stars are in motion, too, but they are so far away, they seem fixed in the sky. (Although of course the earth is in motion, rotating on its axis, so that the stars seem to circle around the North and South Pole! It's all very complicated, isn't it?)

So...if Wolf discovered an asteroid using photography, you would expect the asteroid to be named Wolf, right?

Actually, discoverers often get to name the lands and astronomical bodies they discover, but they don't always name them after themselves. In this case, Wolf named this particular asteroid 323 Brucia. This was to honor a woman named Catherine Wolfe Bruce; she had donated $10,000 for the construction of the telescope he used.

Did you notice...His name was Wolf, hers was C. Wolfe Bruce. That's pretty coincidental, don't you think?

Enjoy Astrophotography
  • Here are the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013 Awards.
  • Here is a gallery of Hubble Space Telescope images.
  • Here is an article entitled “The 27 Most Mind-Blowing Space Photos of 2013 Will Put your Life on Earth in Perspective.”

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